“There are quite a few illustrators in the science-fiction and science-fantasy modes I like very much. I like them because their designs and imaginations are so vivid […] Druillet and Moebius are quite sophisticated in their style.”
– George Lucas, 1979
Lucas might as well have been in a confessional when he said that. For all the focus on Star Wars cribbing from Flash Gordon and samurai films, one massive influence is recognized more rarely: 1960s and ’70s French comic book artists contributed a stunning amount of images to the record-breaking space fantasy franchise.
YouTube channel Abstract Loop recently posted a comprehensive take on how much Star Wars owes to French comics. The slideshow of vibrant sci-fi environments and aliens occasionally adds a split-screen example of its Star Wars corollary, but more often, it doesn’t need to. Do the obvious comparisons mean the Star Wars empire is built on the innovations of artists like Philippe Druillet, Jean-Claude Mézières, and Jean “Moebius” Giraud? Take a look at the video and decide for yourself.
Pick a memorable scene from the original Star Wars trilogy and you can likely find it in this video. The Cantina scene? One panel features an assortment of aliens smoking and drinking strange substances in what could conceivably be called a wretched hive. Han Solo getting frozen in carbonite? Art by Jean-Claude Mézières, for a story by his childhood friend Pierre Christin, features a title character in their comic epic Valérian and Laureline getting frozen in a translucent orange rectangle.
One robot, an Imperial Probe Droid from The Empire Strikes Back, appears in modified form in the background of a panel in Moebius’ 1975 strip The Long Tomorrow. And even the figure running in the foreground of the same panel can be compared to a figure running in a panel by Empire storyboarder Joe Johnston, as the video above highlights. And Druillet’s speeders, hooded figures, and helmeted troopers are all reminiscent of figures in Star Wars, though these could be labeled homages rather than complete rip-offs.
Even the prequel trilogy isn’t safe from unaccredited similarities to French sci-fi comics. Phantom Menace‘s human-trafficking junkshop dealer Watto looks a lot like a bulbous humanoid alien with a trunk from Ambassador of the Shadows, volume six in Mézières’ Valérian and Laureline series.
Arguably the most iconic moment in the prequels comes at the close of the trilogy, as Darth Vader is born out of Anikin’s charred remains. His gross fleshy head is covered in the black helmet before his entire body swivels up dramatically. You probably see where this is going: a similarly dramatic, armored baddies with gross fleshy heads appeared in Valérian and Laureline‘s second volume, Empire of a Thousand Planets.
Though Alejandro Jodorowsky is listed at the end of the video, his limited parallels with Star Wars were through an ’80s comic he co-created with Moebius. That comic, The Incal, featured hectic flying city taxis akin to those from a scene in Attack of the Clones and similar enough to the taxis of The Fifth Element that they generated a lawsuit.
You may have noticed one name turn up pretty consistently: out of all the French artists, Jean-Claude Mézières appears to have had the most influence on the look of Star Wars. Though just a few of the images that flash through the video are credited, most are his.
One final connection to French comics is also worth mentioning: Star Wars’ similarities to Mézières’ art often pair up with similarities to Pierre Christin’s plots. For instance, the character Laureline is seen in Abstract Loop’s video in an iron bikini similar to Princess’s Leia’s infamous slave outfit. The larger story surrounding that panel, according to one twitter account, features an “an obese despot on a flying yacht” who enslaves Laureline. Another book features clone armies.
Mézières was “dazzled, jealous and angry” to learn about the obvious similarities to his work. He may not have shared in any of the billions Star Wars has earned over the decades (or over a few months, in the case of The Force Awakens), but he did get a rebuttal: a 1983 issue of the French magazine Pilote debuted a single-panel Mézières comic.
In it, Luke and Leia sit across from Valérian and Laureline in a Cantina-like bar. “Funny to see you here!” Leia says. Laureline’s dry response? “Oh, we’ve been coming to this club for a long time!”